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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Campaigners call for UAE supermarkets to charge for plastic bags

Experts say customers will be happy to pay once used to the model

Dr Sassan Dieter Khatib-Shahidi, co-founder of German Imaging Technologies, said there is no reason for companies to use landfill when recycling is an option. Antonie Robertson/The National   
Dr Sassan Dieter Khatib-Shahidi, co-founder of German Imaging Technologies, said there is no reason for companies to use landfill when recycling is an option. Antonie Robertson/The National   

Campaign groups have urged the UAE government to take a tougher stance on plastic waste and force supermarkets to charge for plastic bags.

The call was made during a panel discussion held by Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) at Dubai’s Modul University on Wednesday.

The debate - entitled Circular Economy: Bringing Waste Full Circle - saw a group of experts discuss fresh approaches to help improve the environment.

Among proposals was a new law enforcing charges for plastic bag use at supermarket checkouts, as well as a ban on straws and single-use coffee cups.

Sonya Benjamim, who works for the Dubai-based energy consultancy AESG, said the model of charging for supermarket bags had already produced great results elsewhere.

“It’s been adopted in other parts of the world and has been a success,” she said. “People may push back at the beginning but, like in other places, they’ll be okay with it when they see it is the norm.”

The National reported in June this year how Waitrose in the UAE was introducing plastic bag charges for a trial period which will end next month.

The supermarket chain Spinney’s is also considering following suit, depending on the trial’s outcome.

Countries such as China and Kenya have already gone one step further, however, by implementing complete bans on single-use plastic bags.

Ms Benjamin insisted that supermarkets, restaurants and malls in the UAE could all do much more to help tackle environmental waste.

“Businesses could do away with single-use coffee cups and only provide reusable ones,” she said.

“Only providing straws on request is another way they can help with the environment.”

Ms Benjamin went on to outline other measures that malls and supermarkets could adopt to help the fight against plastic waste.

Shops could introduce rebates on recyclable items, she said, and fees at landfill sites could be enforced.

She said: “A couple of malls have already expressed an interest in having an area where people can return their recyclables and get a rebate on them.

“It would be good business for them too, as it will help bring more customers in.”

A number of panel members also agreed that far more substantial fees should be introduced for disposing of waste, particularly in landfills.

“Being held accountable in dirhams is the strongest incentive to be responsible,” Ms Benjamin said. “There should be a policy of pay as you throw.”

She also refuted suggestions it was more environmentally friendly for restaurants to use single-use plastics so that they saved on water usage for washing up.

“Water can always be recycled but sooner or later we are going to run out of space to put all our plastic spoons and forks,” she said.

Dr Sassan Dieter Khatib-Shahidi, CEO of German Imaging Technologies Dubai, went one step further, insisting no firms should be using landfills.

He said more companies would pay attention to improving their recycling if it was made to be in their financial interest.

Mr Khatib-Shahidi, whose company recycles printer toner cartridges, said: “There is no reason why a product of any kind should have to be sent to a landfill when it can be recycled.

“If it became more expensive to dispose of cartridges than recycling them, for example, you’d straight away find significantly less ended up in landfills.

“Attitudes would soon change if you were made to be responsible for what you were disposing of and had to pay for it.”

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Habiba Al Mar’ashi, chair of the debate, said the EEG aimed to increase awareness of environmental issues as well as fostering improved communication between producers, consumers and other key stakeholders.

She also expressed her disappointment that a new pay-as-you-throw landfill scheme which would have seen fees introduced in Dubai had been postponed.

The project, which was announced earlier this year, has been delayed after a number of waste transport companies objected to the introduction of fees, claiming they would have no choice but to pass on the costs to customers.

“Achieving economic growth and sustainable development requires that we urgently reduce our ecological footprint by changing the way we produce and consume,” Ms Al Mar’ashi said.

“We need to make people pay more to dispose of items to encourage them to recycle instead.”